One-Fifth of the World's Children Lives Amid Conflict

Globally, 426 million children live in conflict zones today. Major conflicts around the world have tripled since 2010, and children have been impacted the most.

Children living in war-affected countries live in constant fear, experiencing grave violations of their rights, their childhoods stolen. Countless children have grown up knowing nothing but war and conflict.

Today, Save the Children is the world leader in protecting children from the physical and emotional wounds of war.  We've helped more children in crisis recover and return to learning than any other global humanitarian organization. Your generous support makes this work possible. 

In our report Stop the War on Children: Killed and Maimed we identify the worst places in conflict to be a child:

central african republic

A boy in a grey sweatshirt sits behind a drum.

Childhood Lost to Conflict

Life Amid Conflict

Conflicts around the world are ending childhoods – and data shows that it’s on a dangerously upward trend. 

The impact of conflict on children varies by age, gender, status, ethnicity, religion and disability. Children who live in conflict zones are at the highest risk of experiencing violence, psychological stress, hunger, loss of education, and lacking basic resources.

Four children – Shogofa, Hana, Mahmoud and Lydia – share their stories about what it's like to have their childhoods defined by conflict.

Mahmoud, SYRIA

Mahmoud, age 10, is originally from a village in northeast Syria. His mother says they fled their village ten years ago due to shelling.

They have lived in several makeshift shelters ever since. When Mahmoud was nine, he was injured in an airstrike and he lost both his legs, one just above the knee and the other just below.

Six months later, his father was killed when the hospital where he was being treated for wounds was shelled.

Most recently, Syria has seen the highest number of attacks on schools and hospitals at 296 incidents. The figure is more than 6x greater than the 44 incidents recorded the year prior.

Learn more about how to help children in Syria

Shogofa, AFGHANISTAN

Shogofa was nine years old when she was critically wounded after her home in Fayrab province in Afghanistan was hit by a rocket. She suffered severe head injuries and lost several fingers in the blast. Three of her brothers were killed by shrapnel.

Now Shogofa lives in a tent in a camp in Mazar province with her mother, father, sisters and remaining brothers. Her mother suffers from mental illness from the trauma of what she witnessed. Before the attack, Shogofa used to go to school and she enjoyed playing outside with her friends.

Her family had “everything,” she said. Now, they have been driven into poverty. She says they don’t even have a plastic bag to burn in their clay oven to cook food. If the fighting in her hometown stops, Shogofa hopes her family will move back and her sisters and brothers can play together again.

If there is peace, she hopes to go back to school to study to become a doctor so she can treat sick people.

Learn more about our work in Afghanistan and Afghan refugees.

Hana, GAZA

Hana, age 14, has endured unthinkable loss due to conflict. Her mother and four young brothers were all killed in an airstrike in 2014.

Hana was thrown over 650 feet by the blast and sustained a serious head injury. She later suffered from severe insomnia, flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hana has been supported by Save the Children’s partner MA’AN Development Center. She says one day she wants to become a doctor to help people.

Overall, the Middle East has the highest proportion of children – almost 40% – living in a conflict zone in the world. It is also the region with the highest number of children who have been forcibly displaced by conflict. 

Learn more about where we work in the Middle East and Eurasia.

Lydia, DRC

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) resulted in an unthinkable crime against 15-year-old Lydia.  

“The rebels caught me and raped me," Lydia said. “When I came home from school and I couldn’t find my mother, I started searching for her. This is when the group found me and defiled me."

"After that, I told my neighbors that my mother was missing. I left and didn’t carry anything from the house. I was in pain and felt sorrow.," she said. “I feel so bad, remembering those things.”

Lydia fled from DRC to Uganda. She later found out that she was pregnant. She now lives in a refugee camp with her baby son, Bintu.

The number of children at risk of sexual violence in conflict has increased nearly tenfold since 1990 and has stabilized at this historically high level in the last seven years. Perhaps more than any other violation, the number of verified incidents of rape and sexual violence against children is likely to represent only a fraction of the total cases.

Learn more about the impact of gender-based violence and our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The 6 Grave Violations Against Children

Our ranking was based on the following data from the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the United Nations. They consider the following six U.N.-verified grave violations against children.

Grave violations include:
  1. Killing and injuring of children
  2. Recruitment and use of children by armed forces or armed groups
  3. Abduction of children
  4. Attacks on schools or hospitals
  5. Refusal or lack of humanitarian support, like access to basic health care
  6. Rape and other forms of sexual violence
 
The scale of conflict intensity in a country by the number of documented causalities and the total number and ratio of children living in areas of conflict are also ranking factors.
 
Since 2010, the total number of grave violations against children has nearly tripled, surpassing 200,000. Each of those violations represents a failure to uphold the laws, norms and standards that exist to protect children.
 

Certain countries in conflict are particularly dire.

The ongoing conflict in Syria is dangerous and damaging due to a staggering amount of grave violations against children – 99% of Syrian children are living in areas affected by conflict.

Among the conflict zones in the world, Afghanistan has the most children who have been killed and maimed. While the highest number of children in conflict suffering sexual violence is in Somalia, Nigeria has the highest number of children fighting in war and recruited into arm groups.

How Save the Children Helps Children in Conflict Zones

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. If left untreated, the long-term impact of conflict on children will affect their mental and physical health and development for the rest of their lives.

While we’re active in the 10 worst conflict-affected countries to be a child, we’re also on the ground in over 100 countries.

  • Protection from Harm

We work to protect children from harm. Our emergency relief team is often the first to respond during times of crisis. Throughout our response, we work alongside local governments and other partners to provide relief that is tailored to the affected area’s needs.

  • Child Friendly Spaces

In areas of conflict and during natural disasters, we create child-friendly spaces. We are the leading humanitarian organization on a domestic and global scale when it comes to creating child-friendly spaces. These safe spaces offer affected children the chance to play and learn while allowing parents a respite.

  • Education Resources

Our programs in conflict-affected countries focus on restoring education and provide resources to keep children learning.

  • Access to Healthcare

Access to healthcare is critical to communities affected by conflict. We work to provide access to live-saving health services in places that lack the resources. 

  • Family Reunification

We help reunite children with their families and work closely with refugees and internally displaced peoples all around the world.

  • Advocacy on Behalf of Children

We perform research and advocate the rights for children at home and abroad. We engage policymakers with our expertise, knowledge and provide guidance on foreign assistance funding.

With your support, we’re able to continue supporting children affected by conflict.

Read More About Childhood Amid Conflict 

What’s Life Like for Yemeni Children Growing Up in Conflict?

Children of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Meet Maya–An Advocate for Ending Child Marriage

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